Region’s interest in BRICS shows success at pushing back US might

Man of the hour: Putin posing for a picture before his departure at Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi. — Reuters

As Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese Premier Li Qiang wrapped up separate meetings in South-East Asia this week, the two partners in the BRICS economic bloc encountered a region keen to join a group seen as a hedge against Western-led institutions.

Thailand – a US treaty ally – last month announced its bid to join BRICS, named after members Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. The bloc “represents a south-south cooperative framework which Thailand has long desired to be a part of,” Foreign Minister Maris Sangiampongsa told reporters last week.

For countries seeking to mitigate the economic risks of intensifying US-China competition, joining BRICS is an attempt to straddle some of those tensions.

But it’s also a way of signalling increasing frustration with the US-led international order and key institutions that remain firmly in the control of Western powers, like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

For Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, the interest in BRICS also shows their success at pushing back at attempts by the US and its allies to isolate them more broadly.

A club that for years consisted of just five members expanded to nine with the inclusion of Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Ethiopia and Egypt this January.

That was a push largely driven by China as it tries to increase its clout on the global stage.

Another South-East Asian nation, Indonesia, was considered an early favourite to join last year before President Joko Widodo indicated he would not be rushed into the decision.

Still, the momentum to add new members has continued. Despite US and European efforts to prevent countries from dealing with Moscow, representatives from 12 non-member nations appeared at a BRICS Dialogue in Russia this month. They included longtime US foes like Cuba and Venezuela, but also nations such as Turkiye, Laos, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Kazakhstan.

Also present was Vietnam, which last year upgraded ties with Washington in a move seen as pushback on Beijing’s rising influence in the region. Hanoi has been following the grouping’s progress with “keen interest,” as state broadcaster Voice of Vietnam put it last month.

“Vietnam is always ready to participate in and contribute actively to global and regional multilateral mechanisms,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Pham Thu Hang said at the time.

Vietnam welcomed Russia’s leader this week despite strong objections from the US on the grounds that “no country should give Putin a platform to promote his war of aggression” in Ukraine.

Vietnam and Russia have ties going back to the Cold War and Soviet era.

In their joint statement issued at the conclusion of their talks, Russia welcomed Vietnam’s participation in the dialogue earlier this month and said they would “continue to strengthen ties between the BRICS countries and developing countries, including Vietnam.”

Meanwhile, the US State Department said a senior US official will visit Vietnam to reaffirm American support.

Daniel Kritenbrink, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, is travelling to Hanoi to meet with senior Vietnamese officials and to “underscore the strong US commitment to implementing the US-Vietnam Comprehensive Strategic Partnership,” the State Department said.

Kritenbrink will also “reaffirm the United States’ support for a strong, independent, resilient and prosperous Vietnam.” — Agencies

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